Alexander: 40 Year-Relationship Between Japan and Tennessee Benefits Nearly 50,000 Tennessee Workers

Posted on March 9, 2018

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NASHVILLE, Tenn., March 9, 2018 – United States Senator Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) today said at the Japan-America Society of Tennessee’s Forum, “Tennessee is home to more than 180 Japanese companies that account for nearly 50,000 jobs and nearly $19 billion foreign investment across the state.”

“Former Ambassador to Japan, Mike Mansfield, used to say in every speech he gave that the Japanese-American alliance is the most important two-country relationship in the world ‘bar none.’ Today, I am proud to celebrate the special relationship between Tennesseans and the People of Japan that dates more than 40 years,” Alexander said. “Tennessee is home to more than 180 Japanese companies that account for nearly 50,000 jobs and nearly $19 billion foreign investment across the state. We are proud of that relationship, and I commend all the former governors, state legislators, state and local officials for continuing the work of making Tennessee an ideal location to call Tennessee home for businesses.”

Alexander continued: “I often think about how the growth of Tennessee’ automotive industry has helped bring these two cultures together. In 1979, when I was governor, I attended a dinner at the White House with President Carter and a group of governors and spouses. President Carter said to the governors: ‘Go to Japan. Persuade them to make in the United States what they sell in the United States.’ At the time, Tennessee had no auto jobs and no auto plans. In the south there were only three plants. Nissan made no cars and trucks in the United States.

“So I went to Japan to meet with Mr. Kawamata, the Chairman of Nissan. I showed Mr. Kawamata a picture of the United States taken at night from space. The picture is all black in the Western United States because nobody lives there. He said exactly where is Tennessee? I said right in the middle of the lights, which is where you want to be if you’re building a plant with lots of heavy things that you want to ship around the country. After months of waiting, on October 30, 1980, I received a call from Nissan President Marvin Runyon. He said, ‘Lamar, we’re coming to Tennessee.’ Today, Nissan’s Smyrna plant has grown to more than 8,400 employees and is the top-producing automotive assembly plant in North America and produced 645,514 cars in 2016. Nissan has another 3,300 employees across Tennessee from the powertrain plant in Decherd to the North American headquarters in Franklin.

“Another example -- at one point when I was governor, we were talking to Toyota about opening a plant in East Tennessee but they ended up going to Lexington, Kentucky. When I got the call with the disappointing news, Toyota told me they had a ‘consolation prize.’ The ‘consolation prize’ was a small 100-employee auto supplier called Nippon Denso. The company would be coming to my hometown of Maryville, in Blount County. I think we can all see today that ‘consolation prize,’ was a big understatement. Thirty years after starting production in Maryville, that ‘consolation prize’ has more than 3,900 employees in Blount County and about 2,000 more in Athens, Jackson and Nashville. Last October, the Denso plant in Maryville announced a $1 billion expansion of the plant that could create 1,000 new jobs. Denso also just announced a $400 million expansion at its plant in Athens that could create approximately 320 jobs.”

Alexander concluded: “In 1980, Tennessee had almost no auto jobs. Today, one-third of its jobs in manufacturing are auto jobs.  Then, Nissan made no cars and trucks in the United States. Today, 85% of what it sells in the United States, it makes in North America. Today, Tennessee is home to more than 900 automotive suppliers across 87 of our 95 counties. Nissan and Denso are just two stories, they are joined by more than 180 Japanese companies that have invested in Tennessee including Mitsubishi, Bridgestone and Komatsu. Companies such as Nissan, Denso, Bridgestone and Mitsubishi have become such a key part of our nation’s economy and our culture—we forget they may be foreign companies.”